THE MUSEUM OF ART
THE University early showed a concern with the fine arts by mentioning them in its founding documents of 1817 and 1837. Shortly after the middle of the nineteenth century authentic beginnings were made both in the teaching of art history and in the assembling of an art collection. In 1852 a Detroit portrait painter, Alvah Bradish, was given the title of Professor of the Theory and Practice of the Fine Arts (see Part III: The Department of Fine Arts). Beginning in 1858 he gave a series of lectures on art history, but within a few years his appointment was discontinued. The founding of the collections was the work of a classical scholar, Professor Henry S. Frieze, who came to the University in 1854. During the thirty-five years of his service he proved himself a teacher of wide understanding and deep humanism. He had a particular enthusiasm for music as well as an interest in the plastic arts, and it was largely through his efforts that the musical organizations were created which have played so important a part in the artistic life of the University (see Part I: Frieze Administration).
In 1855 Professor Frieze purchased in Europe a collection of art objects with which to illustrate the lectures he was subsequently to give on painting, sculpture, and architecture. These materials, the nucleus of the Museum of Art and Antiquities, consisted largely of engravings, photographs, and plaster or terracotta copies of classical sculptures. Professor Frieze, who served as Curator of the Collections until his death in 1889, believed it important to obtain plaster casts of Hellenistic and Roman sculpture, and it was through his personal influence that the Class of 1859 presented to the University a full-sized reproduction of the Laocoön group.
The collections in art and archaeology, together with others in zoology and anthropology, were at first housed in the old South Building (South Wing of University Hall). In 1858 they were removed to the North Building (Mason Hall), where they remained for twenty-five years. In the same year Professor Frieze issued a Descriptive Catalogue of the Museum of Art and Antiquities in the University of Michigan; a revised edition of this was authorized by the Regents in 1862, although there is no record of its actual publication. A later Catalogue of the Museum of Art and History in the University of Michigan by Professor Frieze came out in 1876. Although the words Museum of Art occur in the titles of both catalogues it is probable that the editor was construing art largely in terms of Greco-Roman history and culture. In view of the fact that the collections were begun as an adjunct to the Department of Latin, this was to be expected. The materials in art and archaeology, continuing to increase through the decades, remained under the curatorship of classical scholars as late as 1911, when the Department of Fine Arts was established.
The first important original work to come to the University was the life-sized Page 1482marble "Nydia" by the American sculptor Randolph Rogers. Rogers had spent his boyhood in Ann Arbor, and later, in Rome, had risen to eminence as one of the leading figures in the American classical revival. In the fall of 1859 a group of local citizens formed the Rogers Art Association and by giving concerts, lectures, and festivals managed by 1862 to raise funds to secure shipment of the marble replica of this popular work from Rome, where it had been carved during the previous year. The remainder of the cost of the "Nydia" was defrayed by gifts from alumni and friends of the University and also by admission fees to the room in the North Wing of University Hall in which the figure was on display.
From an early date the University seems to have been receptive to the art of portraiture. In 1859 the Board of Regents passed a resolution inviting the President and the incumbents of full professorships to place their portraits, without expense to the University, in the Gallery of Fine Arts. Again, in 1861 there was a resolution inviting the Honorable Lewis Cass, Governor Austin Blair, and the four Judges of the Supreme Court "to make a donation of their portraits to be placed in the Gallery of Fine Arts of the University." No results seem to have come of these resolutions, but through the years portraits of faculty members have been given the University, many of them as memorials from outgoing classes.
Donations of art or of archaeological material, including various collections of replicas and reproductions, were received from early times. In his catalogue of 1876 Professor Frieze was able to list some 1,789 items, of which the greater number were photographs, engravings, or casts. In the 1880's Randolph Rogers gave to the University most of the contents of his studio in Rome, including about ninety original models for his own works. Doubtless as a result of the fairly loose control exercised in the care of the University's art collections, and also because of the inadequate and scattered character of the space available for storage, almost all of these pieces were to disappear without record in the course of the next half century.
Serious plans were, however, made for accommodating the art works belonging to the University. When the Library was built in 1883, it was designed in part as a repository for the collections, which were by then impressively large. The entire third floor of the building constituted a kind of art museum: there was a gallery for pictures and another for sculpture, and in smaller rooms were housed the collections of prints, coins, and other objects. In 1898 the Library was extended, doubling the stack space and the size of the art gallery. Even so, a great many paintings had to be hung on the walls of the rotunda reading-room.
In 1884 a major bequest of paintings and sculptures was made to the University by Henry C. Lewis, a wealthy citizen of Coldwater, Michigan. This collection, which was not transferred to the campus until 1895, formed perhaps two-thirds of the contents of a private art gallery which this enterprising merchant had built up in the course of repeated visits to Italy and to the cities of the Atlantic seaboard.
There appear to have been in all approximately 430 paintings and thirty works of sculpture, many being copies. A group of portraits of eminent nineteenth-century men and women was included in the collection, together with a few good portraits of an earlier day. The general tone of the Lewis collection is best described by mentioning a few of the pictures which still claim attention: "The Twins" by W. A. Bouguereau, "The Retreat" by Adolf Schreyer, "Courtyard Page 1483in the Sultan's Palace" by Benjamin Constant, and, of distinctly higher quality, "Lafayette and Madame Roland" by Jean Jacques Hauer. In the American group the important work "Boyhood of Lincoln" by Eastman Johnson, has become, possibly, the best known painting in the University's possession. A canvas of regional and historical interest is the large "Attack on an Emigrant Train" by Charles Wimar, mid-nineteenth-century St. Louis painter.
After the death of Professor Frieze in 1889, another classical scholar, Martin Luther D'Ooge ('62, Ph.D. Leipzig '72, LL.D. Michigan '89, Litt. D. Rutgers '01), Professor of Greek, became Curator, serving until 1911. In 1892 Professor D'Ooge brought out a Catalogue of the Gallery of Art and Archaeology in the University of Michigan; in a revised edition of this publication in 1902 appeared the first listing of the Lewis Collection; in 1906 a second revision followed.
With the rapid development of the University, it became impractical to try to house the overgrown art collections in the Library, and the construction of Alumni Memorial Hall was partly intended as a remedy for this difficulty. The exact nature and purpose of this building had been a matter of considerable controversy, and the structure which finally emerged was a compromise between the requirements of the Alumni Association and the needs of the University for appropriate space in which to exhibit its collections. The building was completed in 1910, and in the summer of that year the materials in art and archaeology were moved into it. A sculpture gallery occupied the central part of the basement, and a small room nearby was given over to archaeology. The entire second floor, with its three sky-lighted galleries, one large and two small, was planned for the display of paintings.
The Department of Fine Arts was established in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts in 1911, and space was at once found on the main floor of Alumni Memorial Hall for its offices and classrooms. The new incumbent, Herbert Richard Cross (Brown '00, Harvard '01, A.M. ibid. '02), Assistant Professor of Fine Arts, was made Curator of the Art Collection and retained this responsibility until his resignation in 1922. At that time Bruce M. Donaldson (Princeton '13, A.M. ibid. '15) became the departmental head and served as Curator until his death in 1940. In 1928 the Museum of Classical Archaeology was created; exhibition rooms were found for it in Newberry Hall, and in the spring of the following year most of the archaeological material was removed from Alumni Memorial Hall to quarters in that building and in Angell Hall. John Garrett Winter (Hope '01, Ph.D. Michigan '06), Professor of Latin, was made Director and continued in this capacity when, after a further reorganization in 1940, it was renamed the Museum of Art and Archaeology.
Although the Lewis bequest was the largest art collection ever to come to the University, many smaller groups of art objects have been donated at various times. Among these in the years between 1916 and 1946 were collections bearing the names of Wetmore, Todd, Ryerson, Cross, and Stearns. In 1939-41 an important gift of 158 Siamese and Chinese ceramic and bronze objects was received from Mr. and Mrs. Edwin L. Neville; the collection was formed while Mr. Neville was minister to Thailand. In 1940 the Warren P. Lombard collection of 388 works of American graphic art was presented by Professor and Mrs. Alfred H. White. In 1942 an important group of ten art objects, which included three large sixteenth-century Flemish tapestries and an early Renaissance processional Page 1484cross, was given to the University by Baroness Maud Ledyard von Ketteler, originally a citizen of Detroit and subsequently the widow of a former German minister to China who had been killed in the Boxer Rebellion.
As the University grew larger and more complex, title to many art objects came to be specifically vested in particular units or departments. Thus, with the passage of the years, considerable holdings of Oriental arts and crafts were acquired by the Museum of Anthropology. The College of Architecture and Design gradually built up a collection of its own, which included classical, Oriental, modern European, and American art in the fields of sculpture, pottery, glass, textiles, rugs, painting, and graphic design. The Clements Library collection included several paintings, one a work of importance, a version of Benjamin West's "The Death of General Wolfe." The Michigan Historical Collections acquired several fine early drawings and paintings by the mid-nineteenth century painter, J. F. Cropsey. Valuable art objects were specifically given to the Law Department, the Michigan League, the Michigan Union, and to particular student residence halls. These, presumably, never will be within the curatorship of the Museum of Art.
After the opening of Alumni Memorial Hall the University had at its disposal an adequate amount of gallery space, some of which it utilized to display parts of the art collections. It was several decades later, however, before it assumed responsibility for organizing and promoting a serious program of art exhibitions.
Such a program was instituted in 1911 by an outside organization, a town and gown group called the Ann Arbor Art Association, which had been founded by several art-conscious faculty members and citizens. On the evening of May 11, 1910, Alumni Memorial Hall was dedicated, and a reception was held to open a magnificent exhibition of Oriental and American art, of which all the Far Eastern works and a few of the Western paintings were loaned from the collection of Mr. Charles L. Freer, of Detroit. This project was jointly sponsored by the Alumni Memorial Committee and the Ann Arbor Art Association. Thereafter, for several decades the Art Association sponsored in the same building a series of exhibits of great interest and value to the University and to the local public. It performed a function which the University itself might well have assumed. The Board of Regents took cognizance of this by granting to the Ann Arbor Art Association, in 1922-23 and for several years thereafter, an annual subsidy of $500.
With the establishment in 1929 of the Division of Fine Arts, renamed the Institute of Fine Arts in 1936, a certain number of art exhibitions of a special nature were originated and displayed on University initiative and with University funds. Most of these were shown in the galleries of the Rackham Building, which had been dedicated in 1938.
Upon the recommendation of a special committee, appointed in March, 1945, to survey the situation of the fine arts at Michigan, a division was made, on July 1, 1946, between the two parts of the Museum of Art and Archaeology, and the Museum of Art came into being as a separate administrative unit of the University, with quarters assigned to it in Alumni Memorial Hall. The Museum of Archaeology continued to occupy Newberry Hall.
On the same date the staff of the new Museum of Art took up its duties. The Director, Jean Paul Slusser ('09, A.M. '11), was chosen from the faculty of the Page 1485College of Architecture and Design. As Professor of Drawing and Painting he continued his teaching and administrative work in the College on a part-time basis, while serving half-time as Director of the Museum. Over a period of years he had taken an active part in the exhibition and collecting programs of the Ann Arbor Art Association, and this experience, as well as his training in art history and his earlier journalistic contacts with the New York art market, provided him with certain qualifications for his task as Museum administrator. Helen B. Hall ('26, A.M. '29), who was appointed Curator of Paintings, had a background in art history and had acquired, while serving with the Institute of Fine Arts, a command of the processes of cataloguing art materials as well as some practical experience in planning and installing exhibitions. In 1953 her title was changed to the broader one of Curator.
The function of the Museum of Art as defined by the Regents was "to be the collection, conservation, study, and exhibition of works of art." Stated in a still simpler way, its purpose was to give students at the University of Michigan direct acquaintance with original works of art. It aimed to illustrate, both by the use of its own collections and by borrowed or rented material, the work carried on at the University in the theory, practice, and history of the visual arts. Originally, the Museum was given custody of the extensive and evergrowing collection of slides and photographs which was part of the basic equipment for teaching fine arts, and a special curator was appointed to have charge of it. After three years it was found more feasible to turn over this material to the Department of Fine Arts. During these initial years of the Museum's existence the staff made every effort, with the materials at hand, to create an organization which would take its place as a working unit in the art life of the University.
The first step was to put the physical equipment into better condition. A partition was thrown across West Gallery in Alumni Memorial Hall to create an exhibition gallery from that part of the large room not currently needed as a lecture hall. Later, in 1952, when lectures were discontinued in the building, the Museum took over that space and converted it into two galleries, a moderately large one for general exhibition purposes, and a smaller one for Oriental art. The Department of Fine Arts meanwhile converted the area formerly occupied by the Museum into a study room for prints and photographs. Both of the Museum galleries, together with the two small ones north and south of the rotunda, were redecorated in neutral tones of pale gray or off-white.
After operating for three years under crowded conditions in a basement room, the Museum staff was provided with a suite of offices on the main floor of Alumni Memorial Hall; here enough space was found for a study room and for the storage of prints and small objects. The basement room continued to be utilized for storage, shipping, and for general work.
From the outset a vigorous exhibition program was undertaken as one of the principal functions of the Museum. Exhibitions averaged seventeen a year, or almost two for each month of the regular academic session. Many of the displays were rented, but two or three every year were created by the Museum staff, sometimes with the collaboration of specialists in the units dealing with the history or practice of art.
The necessity of determining the most effective uses for the collections soon Page 1486became apparent. As many as possible of the paintings which, with the passage of time, had become scattered about the campus, were returned to Alumni Memorial Hall to be inventoried and reconditioned. An appraisal was made of the collections, and the paintings of the greatest importance were hung, if space could be found for them, or held in reserve to be shown whenever possible. A certain number of paintings and sculptures, many of which were copies, were adjudged as of no aesthetic or instructional value, and, with the permission of the Regents, were sold. About 200 objects, both in painting and in sculpture, were disposed of, and the sum realized was applied toward purchasing new works for the collections. Portraits of faculty members, whenever possible, were allocated to appropriate departmental offices or libraries, and a few decorative but relatively unimportant paintings of landscape or figure subjects were hung in the lounges or common rooms of student residence halls.
A beginning was made in building up the collections. A tentative plan for making accessions was drawn up, which laid out wide objectives in the field of graphic art and more limited ones in the areas of modern painting and sculpture. In 1947 the Regents granted a small annual sum for acquisitions, and since then, within the limitations of his budget, the Director has made purchases of basic items in these three fields. Gifts, meanwhile, have continued to enrich the collections.
Among the recent donors of notable art works have been Carl F. Clarke, Mr. and Mrs. Province M. Henry, Mr. and Mrs. Roger L. Stevens, and Mr. and Mrs. Harry L. Winston. In 1955 the Museum received the final installment of the most important bequest of art objects ever to come into the University's possession. This was the collection of Mrs. Margaret Watson Parker formerly of Grosse Pointe; in its entirety it totalled 679 items, comprising paintings, sculpture, graphic art, textiles, furniture, and works of decorative art.
In 1950 the Museum of Art began the publication of an illustrated Bulletin, of which one issue has appeared each year. It consists of scholarly articles contributed by the Director, the Curator, and by specialists in the Department of Fine Arts or elsewhere, relating to recent accessions or to significant objects in the Museum collections. Distributed to libraries and museum officials throughout this country and abroad, it is a first step in fostering relations between the Museum and a potential body of friends and benefactors.
Bulletin of the Museum of Art, Univ. Mich., 1950-53.
President's Report, Univ. Mich., 1850-1909, 1920-53.
Proceedings of the Board of Regents …, 1865-1953.